A View From the Cheap Seats

June 20, 2008

The Oceans, Trembling in Fear

And then we have this line: “…this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow”.

It was uttered by the Democrats’ candidate for President of the United States, as part of his acceptance speech. A remarkable thing this; that a mere presumptive nomination can drive the oceans into retreat. Who knows what will happen when he is officially named heir to the throne? Will the moon spin off into space? Will Everest crumble? We mere mortals can not presume to guess.

I am not aware of another ruler, or ruler-to-be, claiming dominion over the seas since Canute the Great made the attempt almost 1,000 years ago. Of course he was jesting, in a pointed sort of way, demonstrating to his courtiers that there are limits to even a king’s power.

Obama was not joking. Of this I am sure. He sincerely believes that he will able to reverse the tides, a seemingly noble – but pathetically futile – delusion. Mankind may have some ability to manipulate bits of nature, even to annoy portions of natural splendor from time to time, but authority over the sea? This is surely beyond the pale, even for an accomplished community organizer and freshman Senator.

We do not, have not, and will not cause the seas to rise or to fall. It occurs to me that there is an enormous arrogance at play here, an arrogance that fits in neatly with this candidate’s over all demeanor. For the implication that man can affect the oceans’ rise and fall requires a bigger leap of faith still; it implies that mankind’s power rivals that of the sun. Infringing on solar authority is never a good idea. Just ask Phaethon.

This is dangerous territory, as my brother has pointed out previously in his brilliant essay “The Evolutionary Gravity of AGW Alarmists”. It is a bastardization of science, in which our only obligation is to identify the “what”, without ever having to ask the many “whys” that naturally follow – which is (or used to be, and still should be) the whole point of science.

Politicians dabbling in science, much like scientists who meddle in partisan politics, want us to believe that it is heretical, irresponsible and downright stupid to pose the question “why” these days, particularly about this issue. We used to say that asking “why” was an indispensible part of critical thinking. These days, this robust, intellectually stimulating road to discovery – to which the world owes so much of its progress – has somehow become “denial”, “stubbornness” and “ignorance”.

One can accept the concept that evolution occurs, but it is then – in certain quarters – not acceptable to wonder what the causes of the phenomena might be, or that a benevolent Higher Power might play a part in it. Gravity exists, as my brother pointed out, but we do not yet know the “why” for this natural force. Should we abandon the search for the answer and simply tremble at the result, much as a caveman would look up in the sky at a solar eclipse and wonder if the world was coming to an end?

There is one label that all those who question AGW should bear proudly, and that is the title of “skeptic”. I am a skeptic, about all things, at all times, albeit in varying degrees. Skepticism has lead me to discover what I believe to be great truths, many of which my brothers and sisters in conservative thought also accept as truths, and some of which they would not. I value all of these revelations and I am certain that I would not have arrived at them without the gift of skepticism.

This does not imply that one should either have no absolutes, or – conversely – that every seeming absolute ought to be chiseled in stone. It rather means that there ought to be a standard, a test, which determines how skeptical one might be regarding a particular truth. I would never dismiss an argument that the earth is, in fact, flat, but it would have to be an earth-shaking argument (both literally and figuratively) to sway me. The best standard for skepticism is the one that Jefferson set forth, albeit in the political sphere rather than the scientific; the proposition that truths ought to be “self evident”. AGW theory, in its current form, does not come close to the mark.

More sophisticated AGW alarmists will sometimes use the (now settled) debate over the hole in the ozone layer as “proof” that the skeptics are foolish. Their argument, such as it is, says that skeptics back then “denied” that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were damaging down the earth’s protective ozone layer. Additional research rather convincingly proved that CFCs were having this effect and – thank God (according to the alarmists) – we banned the offending substances just in time.

The alarmist crowd does not seem even remotely aware that this tale weakens their arguments, rather than strengthening them. I was, back when the CFC issue first came up, a skeptic as well. Not a denier – I simply needed to see solid proof. Eventually, that proof was forthcoming and I supported the CFC ban, as did a great many of my fellow skeptics. Today, we don’t hear much about the “ozone hole” (more properly: “ozone thinning over the Antarctic”) any more, because it’s simply not a problem on anybody’s radar any longer. These particular alarmists were correct in once sense – CFC’s were causing disproportionate damage to a segment of the environment – but they were equally wrong in another, equally important sense – for nature proved far more resilient, and more able to repair itself, than the alarmists ever imagined possible.

A sober critical thinker would come away from this episode understanding that it’s OK to be proven wrong, that it’s OK to question a theory and that mankind’s power is still pathetically puny combined to that of the natural world. None of these are lessons that should require teaching, but as a case-study in the value of critical thinking, the CFC episode was certainly an affirmation of sorts for many skeptical scientists.

Alarmists, on the other hand, walked away knowing only two things: that they were “right” and everyone else was “wrong”. The fact that we all got it right in the end didn’t really matter. They wanted a victory, and weren’t interested in discovery. And it was about time they got a victory. They had been wrong so many times before. They were wrong about global freezing. They were wrong about running out of oil and natural gas before the turn of the century. They were wrong about unchecked population growth and global starvation. They were wrong about the Great Lakes “dying”.

And, in reviewing this dubious docket, there was an element of truth in each of the propositions listed above, but alarmists aren’t interested in shades of grey. It’s Armegeddon or bust. Alarmists (albeit of a different stripe) were outed when Y2K turned out to be entirely “OK”, and they became a laughing-stock as a result, but it’s rare to have that kind of opportunity to trash the Chicken Littles of the world. Milleniums only come around every thousand years or so.

Emboldened by the CFC episode, and other “victories”, the environmental extremists who make up such a large part of institutionalized AGW apologists are feeling well nigh invulnerable these days. And, to be sure, the media and compliant politicians are as guilty too, for they perpetuate the myth that the science is “settled” and that there is “consensus”, when any objective observer could not possibly make such an absurd statement.

Anyone who questions them is “sticking his head in the sand”, and/or is on the payroll of Exxon-Mobil, and/or is simply an idiot. I spend way too much time reading and researching both sides of AGW to qualify for the first label; I have yet to receive any sort of check from big oil, so I must disqualify myself from number two; and – aside from my bride (on a bad day) and my daughter (most every day) I don’t believe that there are many people who would place me in the last group either.

I am simply a skeptic, and I will not apologize for it. And, before we launch the most costly environmental program – nay, program of any kind – in the history of the planet, one that will have untold, painful consequences for the impoverished people of the world who will be most hurt by the inevitable economic consequences of treating AGW theory as “settled” science, it might not hurt if our Presidential candidates were a little skeptical too.


1 Comment »

  1. I found the “rise of the oceans” line from Obama breathtaking, actually. The ancient Greeks had a word for this – hubris.

    Comment by alexjc38 — June 21, 2008 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

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